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Wednesday 20th June 2018

Sorry is the hardest word

26th February 2009

England's Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson says the NHS needs to learn how to say sorry in a way that means something to patients.


Even in the best performing hospitals, patients can be inadvertently harmed. In developed countries, that is as high as one in 10 patients suffering as a result of medical error.

While a great deal of efforts is being put into reducing these errors, less work and attention is paid to the aftermath.

Hospitals often tend not to even admit mistakes, let alone explain the reasons behind them or apologise.

And even when an apology does come, how sincere is it?

The patient, or their family, needs to know that an apology means something to the person delivering it, that it is sincere and that it is delivered at the appropriate time.

Sometimes an apology is superficial, a statement to deflect criticism.

Yet a real apology has the power to transform. The person receiving the apology knows that they have been listened to, and that there is true regret.

Equally, apologies need to be followed by action. It is important that families know such a mistake will not be made again.

More leading healthcare organisations around the world are now operating and promoting a policy of 'open disclosure' which has met with a positive response from families.

The NHS has to continue to reduce errors, but when they do happen it has to be more open.

Sixty years after its establishment, the NHS needs to learn to apologise more often. Crucially, it also needs to learn to mean it.


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michelle hastie

Wednesday 4th March 2009 @ 14:22

hopefully the NHS wont take long in sorting the way they handle mistakes.In the medical profession there seems to be an unspoken immunity when errors that could have been avoided occur.'these things happen' is a phrase I have heard before.I don't know of any other profession where mistakes would be tolerated.

Pat Roberts

Wednesday 4th March 2009 @ 15:45

The NHS has a long way to go on the way it handles complaints and this is tied in to customer service skills.
If they were to look at the hospitality industry the way in which staff are trained to handle complaints or small problems often results in them staying as small problems and even handled on the spot if an apology is given and sincerely meant.
All staff need to be trained in these skills and empowered to put things right for the customer if at all possible.
The problem for patients is that comments (not complaints) are not encouraged and staff often take a bad attitude towards a 'complainer'. This of course adds to the patient stress in an already unpleasant situation and gets relaid to many more service users.
Real complaints must identify the cause and if an apology is due it must be made in the spirit with which it should be intended by the appropriate level of staff. Its tough dealing with the public but they do pay for this service.


Monday 6th April 2009 @ 23:24

The idea of an apologetic NHS is curious for all of the reasons already highlighted. It is even more so when one considers the position with respect to ME and the farcical NICE Guidelines that have just been defended in the High Court.

They were defended despite the fact that anyone with any understanding whatsoever of research knows that the guidelines have no foundation in credible research. They appear to be founded solely on arrogant zeal and speculation. The so-called research proved nothing, and suggests that sections of the health professions do not understand how to conduct research, or have any idea what it means to put aside the predetermined conclusions. It may also suggest that those responsible have no intention of putting their prejudices aside, or giving way to someone who will.

That is not to mention the NHS Direct Guidelines, and other worse-than worthless propaganda promoting the same suppositions and dogma.

Dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case in the Judicial Review was met by NICE with a crowing statement that reinforced the false impression among the general public that sufferers had rejected perfectly sound guidelines. I find it very difficult to believe that the statement was made without knowledge that it was made in respect of a pyrrhic victory, arising from a system that makes a fair hearing next to impossible, in defence of groundless Guidelines.

It seems to me that this comes at least very close to willful negligence.

The question is, therefore, how can an organisation as arrogant as that (for, are not the NHS, NHS Direct, NICE and others, de facto, one organisation despite the vehement claims that they are independent?) be expected to apologise willingly, or with sincerity.

Sufferer for 27 years+ of illness sometimes called ME or CFS

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